A Brief History Of Troutdale

Downtown Troutdale Looking North

Troutdale is a community with a rich historic past. The area at the confluence of the Sandy and Columbia Rivers was "discovered" in the autumn of 1792 by Lt. Broughton and his men. The Crew was traveling aboard a British vessel under command of Captain George Vancouver who was aboard another vessel. They were ascending the Columbia River, when they reached a point just east of the mouth of the Sandy River. This point, immediately across the Sandy River from Troutdale, was named Broughton's Bluff, many years later. Mount Hood, however, was seen and named on this location at that time.

The earliest settlers came in 1850 and 1851. Early donation land claims were filed by John Douglass, D.F. Buxton, Benjamin Hall, Stott and Hicklin. Family records credit David F. Buxton as Troutdale's true founder. He filed a donation land claim in 1853 in the center of the present city of Troutdale. Buxton developed the town's first primitive water system, which was in use until the 1960's. He died in Troutdale in 1910.

Sandy River Smelt Run At Columbia River Highway Bridge 1923

However, it was Captain John Harlow, a former sea captain from Maine and successful Portland businessman, who conceived a plan for the town and made it happen. In 1872 he purchased part of Buxton's land claim to build his country home. Because he raised trout in ponds on his farm, he called his farm "Troutdale." He convinced the railroad to build a depot at the site of his farm so he could ship his produce. On November 20th in 1882, Troutdale had a rail line; an important step in becoming a bonafide town.

After Harlow's death in 1883, Celestia, his widow, began platting a town with blocks and streets. Much of the city was built in 1890 and 1891. The first edition of Troutdale's newspaper announced the opening of Aaron Fox's new store, a restaurant, and included ads for a hardware store, surgeon, notary public and blacksmith.

Aaron Fox's Store 1907

The town's major industry was the American Dressed Meat Company, later sold to become Portland's Swift and Company. Other industries that rose were a lumber mill, a hotel and a distillery. The distillery burned in what was reported as a "bright blue flame" in the 1890's.

Aaron Fox was instrumental in incorporating the City in 1907 and became its first mayor. It had become a town of saloons, and incorporation arose from the necessity to exercise some controls over them. Huge licensing fees precluded the need for city taxes.

In 1907, a disastrous fire swept through the city burning the 1890's buildings. A church built on a hillside two blocks from the business district was one of the few 1890's buildings that survived. Some homes also survived.

Saloon Built Shorty After 1907 Troutdale Fire

In 1914, two years after women got to vote in Oregon, Clara Latourell Larsson become mayor of Troutdale and one of Oregon's earliest women mayors.

The Columbia River Highway was built and ran through Troutdale in 1916. Enterprising residents opened businesses, restaurants, tea rooms, hot dog stands and dance pavilions to feed and entertain the travellers.

In 1924, Laura Harlow, daughter-in-law of Captain John Harlow was elected Mayor of the city.

In 1925, a second fire mostly destroyed the business district. This fire is believed to have resulted from an explosion of a still in the garage of John Larsson, the former mayor's husband. The Tiller Hotel and Helming's Saloon, both built after the first 1907 fire, are two of the pre-1925 buildings left in the business district today.

Edgefield Manor- Home For The Elderly Poor 1952

John Harlow's original house was torn down in the 1920's. The only original building remaining was the home of his son, Fred, built in 1900 on the original farm site. That building is now the Harlow House Museum of the Troutdale Historical Society. The original rail depot burned in 1907 and was replaced by a second depot that is now the Rail Museum. It was moved from its original location to its present site in 1979.

In the 1920's, Troutdale claimed the title of the "Celery Capital of the World" as a result of prize winning celery grown here. But farmers also grew wonderful produce and gladiola bulbs... grown in the area's fertile, sandy soil and shipped all over the nation by rail.

The Troutdale City Hall was completed in 1923. The original wood dance floor is now covered by city offices. The dances were an important part of Troutdale's social life for years.

Historic Downtown Troutdale 2003

Construction of an aluminum plant was a boon to the economy in the mid 1940's, but eventually its emissions ended the gladiola industry and damaged other crops. Completion of Interstate 84 in the 1950's pulled traffic off the Columbia River Highway and away from Troutdale. The City remained fairly quiet during the 1950's.

Suddenly in the 1960's, Portland suburbanites discovered Troutdale and the City built its first subdivision and made plans for a new sewage treatment plant. Under the guidance of Mayor Glenn Otto, who later became a state senator and statewide leader, the city boundaries expanded from 320 to more than 2000 acres.

History Tidbits
Reprinted from The Champion newsletter. Information supplied by the Troutdale Historical Society and others.


This Page Was Last Updated October 7, 2014

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